MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Brandi Craig awoke before dawn Friday to a desperate scene as firefighters smashed their way into a duplex that was engulfed in flames across the street in her north Minneapolis neighborhood while tenants, including a family with seven young children, shouted for help.
"They were all screaming," Craig said, her face twisting with emotion. "Once they stopped screaming, it was over."
The fire killed five people, including at least three children, and injured several others, officials said. The cause of the blaze was being investigated, though fire officials say it appeared to have started on the second floor. The names of the dead were not immediately released.
Among those injured was Troy Lewis, according to neighbors and his landlord. Lewis was in satisfactory condition Friday night at Hennepin County Medical Center. Two of his daughters, Shaca and Electra Lewis, were in critical condition.
Craig said Lewis' wife died in November after an illness and that he lived in the upper level with seven children, ages 1 to 9.
Craig said that just the night before she and her fiance had stopped by to give the kids some soft drinks.
"We gave them hugs and kisses and told them we'd see them in the morning," she said.
Instead she woke up to see the house engulfed in flames, a blaze already too dangerous for her to do anything but watch as firefighters broke down the door and tried to rescue the kids. She saw them bring two apparently already dead children from the building. At that point, she said, she couldn't watch anymore.
"It just took everything away from me," she said.
Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said three children died at the scene. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office later confirmed the two additional deaths but did not release any information about the victims. Fire officials said 15 people lived in the duplex.
Fruetel said firefighters encountered heavy smoke and fire on the second and third floors of the duplex as they searched for victims and survivors. It took firefighters about 2½ hours to put out the blaze.